Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 8, 2009 - 12:00am

Is the discourse we are conducting - if indeed we are conducting any discourse among ourselves and with our interlocutor - legitimate at all? Ever since the territories were occupied a public debate has been going on here about their future and what is being done there. The questions have come and gone, all of them in the same cursed vein: To give? To concede? Under what conditions? In exchange for what? The settlements - yes or no; the roadblocks - yes or no; the assassinations, the arrests, the starving, the closure, the encirclement, the curfew, the exposure, the torture, the freedom of movement, the choice or the ritual - yes or no.

An excellent example was provided this week by Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco, who said that the city's Muslims were "ungrateful." For what? We gave them - here we have that word "gave" again - permission to pray at the Temple Mount and they replied with violence.

Indeed, we do not have any moral right to conduct this discussion. First of all, it's a lie that we have given the Muslims permission to worship - only men over 50. But more importantly, who are we to "give" them rights to which they are entitled in a way that is taken for granted in every democracy? Is it imaginable that we would prevent young Jews from going to the Western Wall? Can Palestinians, too, dream of holding a "Jerusalem March" of their own?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his spokesmen are boasting of having taken down a number of roadblocks, and the deputy director general in charge of frequencies at the Communications Ministry is considering whether to "give" the Palestinians a second mobile telephone network after the government has piled up conditions - Goldstone in exchange for Wataniya, the cellular phone operator.

Where does this right come from? Just as a rapist does not have the right to discuss carrying out his nefarious scheme, and the robber cannot haggle over the conditions under which he will return his loot, the occupier, the taskmaster, the jack-booted soldier and the exploiter cannot discuss the conditions under which they will carry out their deeds. This is a blatantly immoral discussion. The discussion by free people of the fate of other people under their rule is just as legitimate as the discussion by slave-runners or human traffickers. The only legitimate discussion is one that intends to end the situation, immediately and unconditionally.

This starts from the top. The Supreme Court deliberates on various matters. Is torture legal? Are assassinations permitted? Is it permissible to take land away from a farmer? Is it permissible to impose a siege on hundreds of thousands of people? Is it legal to imprison people for years without trial? Is it possible to prevent people from getting medical treatment? Is it legitimate to prevent children from getting to school? The mere fact of raising these questions in court, as if there weren't already a conclusive answer to them, is the most depressing proof of the moral nadir to which we have declined.

Of course, this illegitimate discussion seeped long ago into every walk of society. On television, learned commentators discuss whether the siege of Gaza is "effective." Over a can of Red Bull, soldiers argue about whether Operation Cast Lead wasn't stopped too soon and when "we'll stick it to them" again. In their cafes, over a cup of iced java, young people sit and discuss whether "we should give the Palestinians a state," as if this were a question at all and we "give" states. But these discussions, too, monstrous as they may be, have in recent years given way to repression (in the psychological sense), silence, complacence and indifference.

About an hour's drive from us, the unbelievably cruel reality continues. Everything is done there in the name of us all, supposedly, and in the name of security, supposedly. And here among us there is either distorted discourse or non-discourse.

Nothing will change as long as this state of affairs continues. A recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs draws a shocking picture of what is happening in Gaza. For example, 75 percent of its inhabitants, more than 1 million people, are suffering from nutritional deficiencies, 90 percent must live through power blackouts for four to eight hours every day, 40 percent of those who apply to leave for medical treatment are refused by Israel and 140,000 inhabitants are unemployed.

All these figures reflect a situation that has degenerated badly over the past year, and all of them stem from the siege in its third year. How many of us know this? How many of us does this touch at all, between the bar and the gym? And above all, where did we get the gall to decide the fate of another people?


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017